ELCO Continues Scintillating Stretch, Muscles Past Wyomissing As Raiders Notch Key Nonconference Victory

Written by: on Thursday, January 16th, 2020

 

If you were to ask any coach around, chances are that they’d tell you that would much rather prefer to be playing their best ball at the stretch run of the season. Well, that still may end up being the case for the ELCO Raiders and 10th year head coach Brad Conners, you’d be hard-pressed to turn your nose up at this latest stretch that the Raiders have been able to put together here.

Just try this on for size. In their last three games against Camp Hill, Donegal, and Northern Lebanon respectively, ELCO has looked utter-worldly. Aside from the fact that the Raiders have been able to score no less than 72 points in each one of those three contests – including high-water marks of 87 and 81-point outings — perhaps it’s been most impressive to acknowledge the fact that the Raiders had been able put an average margin of victory in each one of those games, effectively cruising past the competition en route to a 12-2 overall record thus far.

On Wednesday night, the Raiders understandably wanted to pick up right where they had left off on Friday night against Northern Lebanon and continue on their scintillating stretch when ELCO welcomed a stingy Wyomissing Spartans bunch into Myerstown – a dangerous team that was seen nipping at Berks Catholic’s heels for first-place honors within Berks Section Two coming into the night — for a tantalizing midweek tester before embarking on a pair of games that ultimately help define and shape the Raiders’ season when they square off against Lancaster Catholic and Octorara in the coming days.

And while it would prove to be far more difficult than any of their recent wins of late, Wednesday night against Wyomissing provided yet another glimpse as to why ELCO is not only one of the most dangerous teams inside the L-L League, but truly District 3 at large.

In a matchup that featured a pair of teams pegged at the #3 and #4 spots within District 3-4A power rankings coming into the night, it probably should have come as no surprise whatsoever to see the Raiders and Spartans trade barbs back and forth between one another in the opening minutes of action.

Sure enough, that proved to be the case in the early going as neither side was able to generate much in terms of separation from the other. And once one team ultimately did gain control of the scoreboard, the margin was extremely narrow, such as the case when Wyomissing junior guard, Darren Brunner, nailed a triple which gave the Spartans their first lead of the night at 7-6 with just 2:30 left in the opening stanza.

Yet even though ELCO’s Ben Horst would counter right back by nailing a 3-ball of his own on the Raiders’ ensuing offensive trip, both the Raiders and Spartans played to a fair and even fight at the conclusion of the opening eight minutes with no better evidence proving that than the 9-9 score between the two once the game moved into the second quarter.

Like a see-saw, the lead only continued to change hands in the second period as well. Just when Wyomissing would jump back in front – such as the case when Darren Brunner sunk another trifecta on the Spartans’ opening possession of the quarter – the homestanding Raiders would proceed to rally right back and offer a timely rebuttal.

Case in point, an Evan Huey 3-ball which gave ELCO the 14-12 lead with five minutes and change left to play before the halftime break. From there, with the Raiders’ bread and butter of filling it up from deep starting to go into full effect, Asher Kemble then followed suit by taking things inside the arc for a change, as Kemble knocked down a smooth jumper on the Raiders’ next possession to give ELCO the gargantuan 16-12 lead with the second quarter starting to head toward its midway point.

But just when it had largely felt like ELCO had finally been able to work themselves into a groove and morph into their old, regular selves, Wyomissing, namely Max Hurleman, clearly had other intentions.

Suffice to say, the Spartans’ senior guard was a force to be reckoned with all night long while running the show for Wyo. And for a player that has certainly seen his fair share of battles out on the football field while playing for Wyomissing over the last handful of years, Hurleman’s cool and calm demeanor in the face of the ELCO blitz proved to be exactly what the doctor had ordered for the Wyomissing contingent as an impromptu 5-0 run – all of which were tallied by Hurleman — gave the visitors from Berks County the 17-16 cushion with 3:25 left before the break.

That said, their hosts would then proceed to rattle off a 4-0 salvo over the course of the final three minutes and change, as a determined bucket chipped in from point-blank range courtesy of ELCO 6’1 senior forward, Ben Horst, gave the Raiders the 20-19 as the game entered its halftime recess.

While it was clear that buckets had been hard to come by throughout a first half that saw two capable fighters trading body blows with one another while standing in the middle of the ring, both the Raiders and Spartans seemed to get their offenses off the ropes and into a rhythm once each had the opportunity to address their issues back in their respective locker rooms during the halftime respite.

In fact, ELCO came right out of the gates firing from downtown.

On the Raiders’ initial possession of the second half, ELCO went right back to their tried and true method of hoisting from beyond the arc. And much in the same vein of a reliable safety blanket being clutched at their side, the Raiders’ hot-shooting came rushing to their benefit as an Asher Kemble triple helped raise the curtain on the second half proceedings while also ushering ELCO out to the 23-19 lead.

However, ELCO’s prolific shooting prowess from beyond the must have been contagious as it quickly spread over to the Wyomissing bench as well.

In fact, shortly following Kemble’s early trifecta, the Spartans were then able to right the ship and proceeded to roar right back before eventually overtaking the lead once more thanks to a 3-ball dialed up by Wyo’s Julian O’Brien, as the Spartans’ sophomore guard gave the visitors the 29-28 lead with 4:45 left to play in the third quarter.

From there, the 3-ball ironically seemed to aid Wyomissing more than the Raiders despite playing in their familiar confines over the latter half of the third quarter as yet another Spartans’ triple — this one cashed in by junior guard Owen Doyle — knotted things back up at 31-31 with roughly three minutes still left to tick off the third quarter clock. And while the Spartans continued to show the same type of persistent fight that just so happens to fittingly be their namesake, Wyomissing would eventually come out the other side of ELCO’s early third quarter storm by regaining control at 33-31 following a Max Hurleman theft and subsequent layup which put Wyo up by a pair.

But just when Wyomissing had started to finally find their footing, ELCO would come right back and knock the Spartans off their balance.

Shortly following Hurleman’s go-ahead layup in transition that had given the Spartans the two-point lead, the Raiders would then answer right back with a timely triple — this time coming courtesy of the handiwork by way of Bryce Coletti — as the Raiders’ consistent, unsung hero gave the homestanding Raiders the 34-33 advantage within the blink of an eye.

And perhaps in the most fitting of ways possible, Wyomissing would then retaliate right back and come up with the go-ahead bucket within the final seconds of the quarter as an offensive board and stick-back by Wyo’s Lamareon McFarlane right before the buzzer, his second of the game that mimicked the exact same dramatics, gave the Spartans the lead by the slimmest of margins, 35-34, heading into the final quarter.

Sensing a theme here? If so, you’re not wrong. In fact, if you’re starting to pick up on a general, prevailing feeling that neither side would likely be able to get out and hide from the opposition with the game starting to head down its final stretch, your intuition would indeed come to fruition.

In fact, the score found itself deadlocked once again with the fourth quarter starting to approach the midway point as yet another Darren Brunner trey, his third of the contest that assisted in the Wyomissing effort, made things all square at 40-40 with 4:20 left to play in regulation.

So, with the game now hanging delicately in the balance, the stage had been set for someone to step up and take the game over as a means of helping their team get over the hump once and for all. And if you’ve spent any great length of time watching ELCO Raider Basketball, you probably wouldn’t at all be surprised to learn who would be the one to come up the game-saving plays.

While Braden Bohannon isn’t necessarily the ELCO Raider who routinely comes up with claiming top-scoring honors on a nightly basis, his fingerprints are almost always in some way shape of form imprinted all over the game in a positive manner. And boy oh boy, did he ever make an impact down the stretch against Wyomissing on Wednesday evening.

When putting together a lengthy list of plays that help determine the eventual outcome of a game that had been nip-and-tuck the entire way through, perhaps its best to start off at the beginning. For that, we head to the 2:50 mark of the fourth quarter with ELCO’s 5’11 junior guard calmly knocking down a pair of free throws to give the Raiders the 42-40 lead.

From there, Bohannon persisted on with his steely determination by authoring a hoop plus the harm that came with all the subtly of firework exploding on the 4th of July, completing an exchange which gave ELCO the 44-41 lead with just 1:23 left to play.

Shortly thereafter, Bohannon would then split the offering on a later trip to the foul line before coming up the defining play of the evening by fearlessly and courageously giving up his body for the betterment of his teammates with taking a charge of the defensive end on Wyomissing’s next trip down the floor, giving the ball back to ELCO with the Raiders effectively dodging a bullet that had been hurled in their direction by the Spartans.

So, with ELCO now maintaining a 45-41 lead with the game now under 30 seconds left to go, Bryce Coletti received the opportunity to toe the stripe with the chance to extend their lead out even further after being fouled by the oncoming Wyomissing defensive troops. Fortunately for the Raiders’ contingent, the 5’10 senior guard came up magnificently with the game on the line by successfully going 2-2 on the expedition to put the Raiders’ lead out to half a dozen at 47-41 with 15.1 left to tick off the clock.

That said, ELCO wasn’t totally out of the woods just yet. No, especially not when Owen Doyle proceeded to nail a timely trey for Wyomissing which had cut the Raiders’ lead in half, 47-44, with 7.2 seconds left to go.

However, after getting the ball inbounded against the Spartans’ imposing fullcourt pressure, another ELCO senior, Evan Huey, walked the length of the court with his opportunity to put the game on ice. And ice he would as Huey was able to make good on the pair, effectively putting the nail in Wyomissing’s coffin while simultaneously giving ELCO the well-deserved, hard-fought 49-44 victory over a stingy Wyomissing crew on Wednesday night just south of greater Myerstown.

“Listen, tonight was kind of a grinder,” a relieved ELCO head coach, Brad Conners, said just moments after seeing his team walk off the floor victorious. “We figured it would be going in. (Wyomissing) is a really good team and defensively, they can really play because they’re so big and strong. I thought that was a really good test for our kids, especially on a Wednesday night in mid-January,” Conners then quipped in his trademark good-natured style.

“Things have been coming easy for us lately,” Conners admitted regarding the Raiders’ most recent handful of games. “So, to have a game go like that and to come out on top I think will help do us a little bit of justice down the stretch.”

And speaking of down the stretch on Wednesday night most specifically, ELCO, spearheaded by the efforts of ‘fellas like Braden Bohannon, eventually helped push the Raiders over the top.

“He just puts you at ease,” said Conners of Bohannon. “You got a bunch of kids out there who have kind of been through some games now and you just feel really comfortable, really with all of them,” ELCO’s 10th-year head coach stated. “I know I called that quick timeout when Ben (Horst) grabbed the ball because I wanted to make sure he knew what we were in. I go, ‘Ben, you know what we’re in right?’ He goes, ‘Yeah coach. I know what we’re in,’” Conners said illuminating the late-game situation inside the ELCO huddle. “He sorta calmed me down. So yeah, you can talk about #40 (Bohannon), but you can also talk about Ben Horst and guys like Evan Huey down the stretch knocking down those free throws which was big time.”

“I do think that the games kind of keep you sharp,” added Conners of his team’s prep heading into their biggest game of the season thus far on Friday night against Lancaster Catholic. “That and the fact that we had to like play in the fourth quarter. It’s been a couple games now since (his players) played in the fourth quarter, so I think that will definitely benefit us heading into Friday night.”

 

NEXT UP: As mentioned, while the so-called “inner circle” of the Lancaster-Lebanon League Boys’ Basketball community knows full-well the capabilities of this year’s ELCO squad, the Raiders will have the opportunity to silence any and all naysayers for good when they welcome the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders into their venerable old-school gym for a titanic-sized matchup for the first of two games between the two that will help determine eventual supremacy within the L-L Section Four race. After their game against Lancaster Catholic, the Raiders will then have to assume the role of road warriors until the conclusion of the regular season as ELCO is slated to play four of their final six games away from Myerstown. But as was proved in just a brief snapshot on Wednesday night, teams will have to bring far more to the table rather than just simply hoping that getting ELCO outside of their familiar confines will prove to be the difference. To be sure, Wednesday night helped give credence as to why many believe that this could ultimately end up being a story book season for the ELCO Raiders once the dust finally settles.

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